Sulfur-modified biochar as a soil amendment to stabilize mercury pollution: An accelerated simulation of long-term aging effects

Bin Zhao, David O'Connor, Zhengtao Shen, Daniel C.W. Tsang, Jörg Rinklebe, Deyi Hou

Research output: Journal article publicationJournal articleAcademic researchpeer-review

63 Citations (Scopus)


The stability of mercury (Hg) contamination in soil environments can change over time. This has implications for agricultural sites under long-term management after in situ treatment involving soil amendments. In this study, rice husk biochar (RHB) and sulfur modified rice husk biochar (SRHB) were synthesized and applied (dosage = 5% dry wt.) to a Hg polluted agricultural soil collected from Guizhou province, Southern China (soil total Hg content = 28.3 mg/kg; C = 2%; and, S = 0.1%). The long-term stabilization effectiveness of the soil treatments was evaluated by a combined approach involving: (i) accelerated aging for 104 simulated years; (ii) soil extraction as a proxy for plant uptake; and, (iii) sequential extraction to identify Hg fractions. The SRHB amendment raised the soil's total S content by approximately an order of magnitude (to 0.9%), which remained at a generally constant level throughout the simulation. The initial pH levels for the untreated and treated soils were alkaline and remained between 7.0 and 7.5 for the first 50 years of simulated aging, before decreasing as the simulation time increased further. The pH of the SRHB treated soils did not drop below that of untreated soils during the simulation. Soil extraction tests with 0.1 M HCl solution indicated that RHB and SRHB treatments could effectively immobilize the Hg in soil for at least 50 and 75 simulated years, respectively. At simulated year 50, the amount of Hg extracted from RHB and SRHB treated soils was <200 ng/L and <100 ng/L, respectively. Thus, showing SRHB to be a particularly promising remedial option. The soil Hg was mostly associated with the stable sequential extraction fractions (F3-5). By the end of the simulation, the F5 fraction for SRHB and RHB treated soils reduced by 44.6%, and 42.0%, respectively, whereas the F4 fraction increased by >400% in both cases. In summary, SRHB may provide long-lasting Hg stabilization at contaminated sites. Therefore, further research toward the development of this stabilization technology is warranted.

Original languageEnglish
Article number114687
JournalEnvironmental Pollution
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2020


  • Hg contamination
  • Metal bioavailability
  • Soil stabilization
  • Sorption
  • Sustainable remediation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Toxicology
  • Pollution
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis


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